Neighbor of Rustic Barn wants to buy abandoned property

Enterprise file photo — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 

Ryan Caruso’s son, Kieran, plays with his trucks in the stream between the Caruso home on the corner of Fuller Station Road and the Rustic Barn on Western Avenue, in December 2018. 

GUILDERLAND — The Rustic Barn, a dilapidated structure on the western outskirts of town nearly buried in vines and strewn with crumbling bags of pesticides and leaking cans of chemicals, may soon find an owner to bring it back onto the tax rolls. 

Located at 4852 Western Turnpike, the Rustic Barn was owned by Herbert Young, who for years sold woodstoves, antiques, and lawn-care materials there. The property also includes a neglected mid-19th-Century frame house. Chemicals found on the property include petroleum and pesticides. Young, who died in 2013, had no children. 

Ryan Caruso, 39, whose property at 6685 Fuller Station Road adjoins the Rustic Barn property, has sent the county a request to allow him to take ownership, outlining his plans for the property. He told The Enterprise this week that he hopes to salvage the barn, which he and his wife want to use as a farm stand.

The barn has been confirmed, he said, to be a Dutch barn, “identical in structure to one at the Old Stone Fort in Schoharie.” The house, he said, would need to be abated and demolished. 

Michael McLaughlin, director of policy and research with the Office of the Albany County Executive, told The Enterprise this week that the county is considering Caruso’s request and will likely hold a sealed-bid auction of the Rustic Barn property and two or three others that are environmentally problematic, and “see how it goes.”

Prospective buyers will need to provide their “highest and best offer,” he said, as well as information about their preparedness to bring the property back into productive use. The county hopes to have this process up and running this month, McLaughlin said. 

Since Caruso and his family moved from Massachusetts and bought their home a year ago, he has been cleaning up his own backyard and that of the Rustic Barn; both yards were “and are,” he told The Enterprise earlier, strewn with trash. 

A stream marks the property line between Caruso’s home and the Rustic Barn. Spokesman Rick Georgeson of the DEC’s Region 4 told The Enterprise earlier that the stream was hard to trace because it runs through private property, but that the DEC was assuming, from an abundance of caution, that it enters the Watervliet Reservoir, the source of Guilderland’s drinking water. 

Caruso said this week that he has learned that the stream does empty into the reservoir, connecting to the reservoir through a culvert that goes beneath the railroad tracks. 

Caruso sent photos of the possible environmental hazards on the property to the Department of Environmental Conservation, which brought DEC workers to the Rustic Barn in November 2018 for an emergency cleanup

A DEC spokesman emailed a statement to The Enterprise this week that read: 

“Since November 2018, The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has been overseeing cleanup of the abandoned site at 4852 Western Turnpike in Guilderland to stabilize the site and remove materials. During that time, DEC worked with contractor National Response Corporation to remove pesticides contained inside the building, which had no harmful effects to the environment.

“In addition, and out of an abundance of caution, DEC also monitored the excavation and safe disposal of soil in the areas of potential impacts where fertilizer was stored and where an oil tank was located. Follow up tests at the site met appropriate standards and there was no harmful effect on the nearby Watervliet Reservoir drinking-water supply or any nearby waterbodies. The cleanup is now complete and DEC will release a final spills report in the near future.”

In Young’s final years, when he was in a nursing home, the property fell into tax arrears; as of last August, a total of $39,000 in back taxes had accrued since 2011. 

The Rustic Barn has been in “withdrawn status” for months, which means it continues to be privately owned, to protect county taxpayers from paying for cleaning up an environmental mess caused by a private-sector business.

The Albany County Land Bank did not want to take it over because of environmental concerns, The Enterprise learned earlier. County officials did not even want to do any environmental testing or remediation on the property, Guilderland town planner Kenneth Kovalchik told The Enterprise earlier, since digging or tests of any kind could be interpreted by the state as taking ownership. 


— From Guilderland New York by Alice Begley and Mary Ellen Johnson. 
A 1907 postcard shows Ryan Caruso’s home, on the corner of Fuller Station Road, formerly the Fullers post office and general store. Caruso believes that the structure visible at the right is the Rustic Barn. 


Sealed-bid auction 

Years ago, when he first started working with the county, McLaughlin said, the only type of property auctions held were live auctions. The majority of the sales went fine, but in 10 or 20 percent of cases, properties, especially in the city of Albany, were “pretty derelict,” and people bid on them because the prices were so low but, he said, “didn’t realize what they were getting themselves into, and that tended to cause blight.” 

The county solved that by using sealed-bid auctions, but those are very time-consuming, said McLaughlin. He added that the county land bank has now taken over most of that process and has automated it. 

This will be the first time in about five years that the county has offered a sealed-bid auction, he said; the process would include notifying the localities involved to let them know a property is available and leaving the bidding open for a month. 

If the county decides to recommend accepting any of the bids, McLaughlin said, the final step is to ask for authorization from the county legislature. The application process would allow the county to tell the legislature very specific reasons why it is recommending a particular bidder.

If this goes well, there are a number of other environmentally problematic properties that could be offered in the same way, McLaughlin said. 

A change in the disposition process earlier this year allows the county to do sealed bids, McLaughlin explained. This process avoids all the questions that have been raised in, for instance, the case of 22 Hammond Road in Knox, he said; it avoids the perception that the county is picking people to give properties to. 

The 65-acre Hammond Road property raised these questions in 2017 when the county legislature voted to convey it to a former legislator, for $60,000, despite controversy over whether other potential buyers had been properly notified or if the county was receiving a fair price. County Executive Daniel McCoy later vetoed the measure and the property went to the land bank and was purchased in 2019 for $66,500.


Assessed value 

In Guilderland’s town-wide revaluation, the Rustic Barn property’s assessed value rose from $92,800 to $264,700. 

Town Assessor Karen Van Wagenen said this week that this value would have been assessed because the Rustic Barn property is an acre of land right on Western Turnpike. This also reflects the fact, she said, that values drop off on Route 20 in western Guilderland.

For the sake of comparison, another derelict property, the Governors Motor Inn at 2505 Western Ave. between Carman Road and Route 146, saw its valuation rise from $500,000 in 2018 to $1,249,300 this year. The Governors Motor Inn is almost two acres in size and in 2005 had previously been valued, before a fire in 2010, at just over $1.2 million. About the motor inn, which is currently owned by the land bank, Van Wagenen said, “Just the land alone — it’s commercial land right on Western Ave.” 

“That’s another bone of contention,” Caruso said, noting that the new valuation of the Rustic Barn is almost the same as the valuation of his home. His home’s new assessment is $279,000. 

If he does receive ownership of the property, he plans to talk with the town about the assessment, he said. The grievance process for this year ended recently, but, he said, “I can’t file a grievance unless I actually own the property.” 

Caruso has been bringing in many contractors, he said, to estimate the costs of cleaning up the property, remediating and demolishing the house, and saving the barn. It was important for him to have all that information ready before submitting his letter to the county, he said. 

His wife, Lucinda, works for the state; he works in retail. 

Caruso has done a lot of research into the history of his house and the Rustic Barn, both of which date from the 19th Century. Recently he learned, he said, that at one point his house and the Rustic Barn property were paired. In the 1940s, he said, the whole property was apparently Ralph Spring’s Truck Farm; the Springs lived in Caruso’s house, and the Rustic Barn was a farmstand. 

He hopes history will repeat itself. 


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